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ROVing the Waters to Protect Our Oceans


The ROV in Action

Learn about the ROV, how it works and how it will help marine conservation.

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Journey to the Bottom of the Ocean

Take a journey with the Beagle to the bottom of the sea and get a glimpse of the rarely seen ocean floor and the creatures that live there.

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In September 2009, The Nature Conservancy and partners launched a five-year study to assess the impact of trawl fishing in soft-bottom seafloor habitats in Morro Bay, using cutting-edge technology — a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) christened the Beagle.

“Flying” just above the seafloor, the Beagle — an underwater robot with cameras — gathers high-resolution video and still photographs of marine life and habitats — vital data in the fight to save California’s threatened oceans.

Sophisticated Technology

The Beagle is equipped with a number of advanced features, including forward, downward and rear-facing still and video cameras; sonar; and a maneuverable arm; it also has the ability to descend to depths of up to 3,000 feet.

Tethered to a surface vessel, the Beagle is piloted from the ship and can be steered in any direction, or it can be programmed to carefully follow a charted path. While scanning the ocean floor, it transmits data to the mother ship’s onboard computers, where it is recorded for further analysis by scientists.

Groundbreaking Research

With the help of the Beagle, the research team — comprised of the Conservancy, California State University Monterey Bay, National Marine Fisheries Service, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) and fishing partners — can not only evaluate how trawl fishing affects the ocean bottom, but can also monitor the recovery of already-trawled seafloor habitats.

The first controlled study of its kind on the West Coast, this project has the potential to yield otherwise unobtainable data. The species and habitats under study are often found amid broad continental shelves, deep canyons and offshore reefs and banks — areas beyond the reach of divers. The Beagle enables researchers to travel to these hard-to-reach places, expanding their ability to explore and understand these deep underwater realms.

Data collected by the Beagle can also be used to enhance other Conservancy efforts, such as our partnerships with local fishermen to pioneer environmentally and economically sustainable fishing techniques. These fishermen are leasing Conservancy-owned trawling permits and testing alternative gear; when combined with ROV findings, the information gathered by the fishermen can help inform management decisions for the fishery and establish models for innovative marine conservation around the world.

Broadening Our Reach

The Beagle will also be employed to assist the California Department of Fish and Game, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), MARE and other partners to research and monitor deep-sea habitats in the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas.

Using ROVs, scientists are collecting video to document deep habitats and the abundance of fish within and outside the marine reserves. The findings will help resource managers track changes in the environment, help determine the effectiveness of marine protected areas and guide best management practices.

Strong Support for Marine Conservation

The Beagle was acquired through a grant from the California Ocean Protection Council (through the State of California Coastal Conservancy). The Council strongly believes in the Conservancy’s cutting-edge approach and commitment to promoting better management of our marine resources.

Together with our partners, the Conservancy is using inventive approaches, like the ROV, to assess the top threats facing deep-sea habitats and to develop effective conservation strategies that will help protect California’s oceans.

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